No-frills prose underscores a charming, heart-wrenching tale about confronting and surviving grief.

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FIRST CREATURES

A JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF

In Liberati’s debut novel, seemingly magical creatures visit an amnesiac grandmother and help her put her life—and mind—back together.

Beloved schoolteacher Ruth Lily has struggled for the past year, crippled by grief-induced dissociated amnesia after the death of her husband, Roger, in a violent car accident. Her therapist, Dr. Brooke, urges her to turn her attention to the garden that she and her husband cultivated together, as “grief work” to help her cope. Within that garden, she encounters the First Creatures, childlike entities who offer her emotional support as she begins to forge new friendships, attend social functions, and connect better with her now-distant son, Bryce, and his wife, who are expecting a new daughter. Not every First Creature in the garden brings easy comfort, however; for example, an amphibianlike entity called Mr. Gabriello slowly returns Ruth’s missing memories in exchange for notes that her grandson, Hayden, has hidden around the garden. Mr. Gabriello helps her recall her times with Roger, from their first meeting to their wedding and beyond. Finally, most chillingly, she remembers the car crash—and the other shocking fatality that struck her family that day. The novel uses short, rapid-fire chapters and a simple prose style; its muted tone in the face of fantastical events only accentuates its magical realism. The story is as much about coping as healing, as it explores the emotions, such as love, hope, peace and joy, that people often lose after tragedies. The First Creatures act as avatars of these feelings, and they’re odd but nonthreatening. Velo, a tutu-wearing rabbitlike creature, is likely to become a favorite of many readers, but several characters outside the garden are equally quirky, like an overly frank girl who lives next door and a stammering priest with a haunted past. Each effectively serves as a reminder of the life that Ruth is missing. The author puts great care into portraying how grief alters relationships and turns day-to-day minutiae into insurmountable struggles, yet the novel ultimately offers a hopeful, cautious message of healing and compassion.

No-frills prose underscores a charming, heart-wrenching tale about confronting and surviving grief.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692266182

Page Count: 286

Publisher: Pewter Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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